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There’s been no shortage of articles touting the benefits of quick, intense exercise. A new study in the International Journal Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism just dug a little deeper to compare oxygen consumption — an indication of metabolism speed — between athletes who performed sprint intervals versus longer bouts of endurance exercise.

The Study

The researchers asked eight male students to partake in 30 minutes of steady-state cycling, four 30-second cycling sprints with four minutes active recovery in between each, and no activity (the control) three times a week for six weeks. Researchers measured their oxygen consumption (VO2) over three separate 24 hour periods — during and after 24 hours of exercise. The results revealed their VO2 was 150 percent higher during endurance exercise than sprinting intervals, yet after 24 hours the overall amount of oxygen consumed between athletes was nearly identical.

Can We Trust It?

The study suggests that when it comes to exercise and metabolism, intensity may be just as important as how long we’re hitting the roads. For those who don’t have 30 minutes to spare, two total minutes of (now here’s the key!) intense sprinting with a proper warmup and recovery period will effectively boost metabolism over the next day. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the intense exercise was bookended with significant periods of (less intense, but still some) activity — so the results might not be as shocking as the study title might suggest. Intense exercise is more efficient and boosting metabolism than steady state cardio, but only to a certain degree.

Also, the results are based on a super small sample and only included males subjects. Caveats aside, there is enough science to say that aerobic exercise will help people get healthy and happy, so make sure to squeeze in some heart-pumping cardio, no matter how many minutes long.

Article updated 8/22/12

Do you think these results are legit? What do you prefer: short intervals or longer bouts of cardio?